Composite decking recommendations
December 24, 2007 4:25 PM   Subscribe

I'll be replacing a cedar deck soon, and would like recommendations on composite decking material.

I'm more concerned being eco-friendly than with cost. I know there are pros/cons on both sides of the composite/wood divide, but I've done a couple wood decks and it's time to try composite.

What have you used? Likes, dislikes? Research resources? What would you use if you did it over again?
posted by Slacker Manager to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Trex is supposed to be nice. And its made (at least partially) from recycled plastic/waste wood.
posted by baphomet at 4:33 PM on December 24, 2007

I've used Trex. It cuts nice and you can route it if necessary. You should use the special decking screws when you install it. But it does not look anything like wood, so be careful where you use it. (My pet peeve is people who use pressure treated wood as finished trim on their front porches.)
posted by Gungho at 5:06 PM on December 24, 2007

I used TimberTech, a Trex-like composite. They just started making "exotic" colors, so it doesn't look quite as unnatural as the flat grey / brown Trex. You can still tell it's not wood, of course, but it's not obvious if you don't examine it closely. Ours has fooled some visitors. FWIW, we used the "rosewood" color.

We're pretty happy with it: we built it six months ago, and it still looks brand new (we're in Seattle). And no splinters / periodic restaining / etc.

On the downside, I think TimberTech uses "virgin" wood (mixed with plastic), where Trex uses reclaimed wood. So Trex is probably more eco-friendly.

Here are some pictures, if you're curious.
posted by molybdenum at 5:37 PM on December 24, 2007

I've a friend with a Trex deck. At least, I think it's Trex. Plasti-wood, certainly. Other than looking completely unlike wood, my main observation was how very much it showed oil stains. You might think "well, I won't be doing auto maintenance on the deck," but will you be BBQing? Because every little drop that falls onto the decking seems to be absorbed, staining the surface rather deeply. Apparently sometimes dishsoap, applied quickly, will take care of it. At other times more drastic measures may be required.
posted by mumkin at 8:39 PM on December 24, 2007

My Dad did a small deck on the front of a guest cabin using a product called "Millennium Decking".

It's a pretty cool material - it is not like traditional decking in that the finished surface has no gaps - the boards go together in a tongue and groove like fashion as seen here.

I've never liked the look of Trex - it's just too plastic-y for my tastes - The screws are hard to set properly as well, if most of the installations I've seen are any indication.

As with other composite decking products, you still need to use wood for the understructure.

(my writing seems sort of ad-like - I don't have any connection to the stuff)
posted by davey_darling at 9:50 PM on December 24, 2007

Second the heat issue. This stuff absorbs heat, some friends of mine put down throw rugs in the summer.
posted by Marky at 10:47 PM on December 24, 2007

At my last house we had a huge cedar deck built in back but the builder did trex on our front porch and we found that after a couple years the cedar deck needed all sorts of care and the trex could just be hosed off.

And while the cedar looked great at first, it just weathered to a gray color and was too much work to constantly stain and restain while the trex just looked like a nice maroon colored floor in front.

When we moved to a new house, I decided to go with all trex. It feels great on the feet (smooth, no splinters) and it's roughly half waste sawdust/glue and half recycled plastic. I've done Trex on a deck I built (small sitting one in our garden) and paid for a matching giant one up against the back of my house and we're pretty happy with it.

If I could do it all over again, I'd just have two things worth mentioning. One is the colors in their catalogs and on their sites are nothing like what they look like in person. They purposely tweak color to look more wood-like when the truth is that none of their colors or pigments have enough brown to look like their product photos (basically, I felt I paid a little too much extra for the "mahogany look" that didn't look anything like their product photos.

The second thing is fasteners. I went with color matched trex-designed screws and though they work great, go in cleanly, and look nice when done, I wish I paid a little extra for some under-decking fasteners so I could achieve fully smooth deck boards. Due to contraction and expansion in high summer temps, the trex around the back deck's screws can kind of pucker and give the deck hundreds of small bumps in the summer where it is expanding. A well-designed hidden fastener system would cost more, require way more planning (you can't simply pull a board down the line), but would look super clean (all the trex product shots are shown without any screws in them, it's all hidden fasteners).
posted by mathowie at 10:58 PM on December 24, 2007

(just now noticed it's you Bren asking the question. Feel free to stop by my house to check out our trex decks anytime)
posted by mathowie at 10:59 PM on December 24, 2007

Our deck out back is the original (as in 10 year old) Trex in grey. No, it doesn't look like wood. We used Trex at that time because the deck on our previous home kept giving our kids splinters no matter how we cared for the wood. The Trex has aged really nicely - it's a light dusky grey now. The only drawback is that it has a tendency to get green towards the end of the season in the shaded areas. I think that the newer Trex is not as subject to mold, but in any case, a quick power wash makes it look as good as new. I've never noticed that the Trex deck gets hotter than a traditional wood deck. It's also nice and smooth on the feet. We have ours adjacent to a pool, and it doesn't get slippery when it's wet.

We replaced our farmer's porch in the front of the house a couple of years ago with Procell on the recommendation of a builder friend. He liked it because it's mold resistant and doesn't fade very much. The look is similar to solid-stained wood. We've been very happy with it. It has literally needed no upkeep other than a hose-off for dirt. If I ever replace my Trex deck, I'll use the Procell out back.

I'd also recommend a vinyl rail system for your deck. It's expensive, but worth it.
posted by Flakypastry at 8:37 AM on December 25, 2007

I also built my deck from Trex. As Gungho says, use the screws recommended by Trex. Follow the instructions about spacing, as composites have greater range in expanding in the summer and constricting in the winter (assuming you live in a seasonal clime).

My deck is about two years old. No retreating it or refinishing it, no splinters. Still looks good.
posted by poppo at 11:17 AM on December 25, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thanks, all. Lots of good leads to follow up on here. Super thanks for the pictures of your deck, molybdenum. I agree that TimberTech looks a lot like wood. And mathowie, I may come by to scope your deck, but I REALLY want to check out the peaked-roof cover you built over your deck.
posted by Slacker Manager at 11:48 AM on December 25, 2007

I had read about the mildew and staining problems with trex, so we wanted a 100% recycled plastic decking. We went with eps plastic lumber. We just love it; it's cool in summer, splinter free, and looks brand new with a yearly powerwash 4 years later. The only catch is that the framing has to be closer together so it won't really work for a retrofit. However, it is a great material and avoids many of the problems of trex. You can see our deck in this picture of my kid's Halloween costume.
posted by ulotrichous at 2:50 PM on December 25, 2007

Just to be the voice of contrariness, have you looked into ipé? It's supposedly rated for 20+ years unfinished (looks really handsome finished), and is cheaper than composites.
posted by adamrice at 4:30 PM on December 25, 2007

I built a dock ramp with trex as the top deck; it was nice and consistent, easy to work with and easy to maintain. One issue was that it was VERY slippery when wet, which may not be as much of an issue on your deck than it was on my dock. We ended up nailing in some thin PT strips to make it walkable. YMMV.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:50 PM on December 25, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, adamrice, I'd considered ipé. It does look really nice. For this deck project, though, I'm trying to avoid being the first user of wood if I can help it (admitted treehugger). I'd go for some reclaimed ipé, but I bet that's hard to find.
posted by Slacker Manager at 7:23 PM on December 25, 2007

Don't mean to change your mind or anything, but there is nothing that is more luxurious as the look and feel of natural [hello] wood — cedar for a deck.

As a restorer/painter, I go organic.

The most amazing product I found was Hemp Oil Wood Finish. I don't work for the company nor advertise for them, but am I ecstatic I found them in Edifice home restoration magazine.

I recently had to chemically clean a cedar deck, that the home owner left natural for years. It looked gray, dingy and under the pine tree, green and mildewy.

The Hemp Oil is natural and the oil restored the natural lustre of the wood. I really laid it on. It was very oily for a few weeks [lay down cardboard to not track it indoors till thoroughly dried] till it really soaked in and dried on the surface. The rain just beaded up.

The shine of the wood was wonderful. I did the same to the cedar spindles and railings too and the solid cedar door, which had been stained and sealed with a transparent alkyde coating. Ugh. I sanded it down to the natural wood and oiled it.

The Hemp Oil can be used on indoor hard wood floors and on cutting boards. It restores moisture to the wood and spills can be cleaned up, sanded if it's paint or something and oiled again.

You may need to apply some every year, depending on your climate, but that's the deal with real wood. It isn't really 'dead' just because it's cut down, you know.

Your plastic deck may last, but it'll last at the landfill forever too.
Wood is a renewable resource, ahem.

Sorry, I love wood and Mother Earth too...
posted by alicesshoe at 11:01 PM on December 25, 2007

We used Trex to build our raised garden beds a few years ago. It's holding up to the constant soil contact beautifully. It doesn't seem quite as rigid as similarly-dimensioned wood, though, and you can split the boards, especially if you put screws in the "end grain" without pilot holes. It's also a little easier to strip out holes, I found, so don't over-tighten your screws.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:47 AM on December 26, 2007

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